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Don't Bust the Crust: Leaving No Trace In the Desert


I recently spent a killer weekend in the Moab, Utah with the Mountain Standard crew. While the majority of our time was spent desert-adventuring and getting sand in my hair, we had some quality talks (and drinks) around the campfire. Among my favorite: how to leave no trace in the desert.


The conversation started with an outburst of "Don't Bust the Crust!", and the discussion of this super important Cryptobiotic soil. When camping, hiking, climbing, playing in the desert and during general shenanigans, be sure to avoid crushing or stepping on this stuff. It is essential to the desert ecosystem and takes, like, FOREVER to grow (okay, only 5,000-10,000 years).

In fact, if you step on this magically growing sand, it might never recover. If it does, it could take upwards of 50 years... But why should you care?


Cryptobiotic soil is basically the deserts glue, and holds a whole bunch of important bacteria, fungi and nutrients. These questionable components retain moisture and allow plants and other vegetation to take root, helping the desert ecosystem thrive.


The recent Environmental Management master's grad and fellow Mountain Standard Ambassador, Mitch Warnick, who introduced us to "Don't Bust the Crust" further explained that this was a big topic for Leave No Trace, and extremely important for preserving the desert.

When in doubt, find a wash or rocky area to hike in, camp in designated, already-made (crust-less) spots and keep your cars, trucks and bikes on roads.

This gnarly looking black crust is way more impressive than it looks.


Mountain Standard Ambassador, Beth Kolakowski is a Jersey Girl who currently resides in Boulder, CO. She earns her beers on multi-pitch climbs and backpacking trips, and knows more about birds than you or I ever will.

Words by Beth, photos by Ambassadors Mitch Warnick and Cody Mann.